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"Pennies over pupils": Campaigners vow to continue fight as school cuts move forward

"Pennies over pupils": Campaigners vow to continue fight as school cuts move forward

Published by Lisa Darvill at 6:12pm 15th January 2019. (Updated at 6:14pm 15th January 2019)

Teachers and parents at a Harrogate school say they will continue fighting planned budget cuts. 

  • The Grove Academy  is a Pupil Referral Unit, which teaches students who've been excluded from mainstream schools
  • North Yorkshire County Council is changing its provision for young people with special needs
  • It means The Grove Academy, along with North Yorkshire's other pupil referral units, face a budget cut
  • Today senior county councillors backed the proposals at a meeting
  • But teachers, ex-pupils and parents have slammed the plans as "outrageous" and "catastrophic"
  • The council says it needs to make efficiency savings and says the proposal will reduce exclusion rates

Today members of North Yorkshire County Council's Executive voted unanimously to move forward plans to change the way it funds provision for pupils at risk of school exclusion. 

It means the county's pupil referral units which teach students who've been excluded from mainstream schools, such as Harrogate's The Grove Academy, face a substantial budget cut. 

Headteacher of The Grove Academy, John Warren, has previously told Stray FM it will most likely lead to the unit's closure.

Despite representations from campaigners, councillors decided to move forward the plans, which will be given final approval at a budget meeting in February

Before today's meeting began campaigners handed over a petition of 5,500 signatures. 

 

PRU campaigners hand over petition
'Save the PRS' campaigners hand over their petition to Cllr Patrick Mulligan at County Hall

 

Following the meeting, The Grove Academy teacher and campaign organiser Alex Boyce said:

"Today the council have chosen to prioritise their pennies over our pupils.

"They have ignored the 5,500 signatories on our petition and approved the proposed cut - this will not trim the fat from the budget of the pupil referral service, it will rip the heart out of it.

"As we have stated to full council, to the scrutiny committee and now to the Exec, there simply will not be enough provision in place for our most vulnerable children. On this timescale the council's plans rely upon a leap of faith - a naive hope that alternative education providers will spring up as soon as April."

North Yorkshire County Council says the new proposed system will reduce the number of young people who're being excluded from mainstream education. 

It also needs to make savings of around £5.5m. 

Cllr Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Education and Skills said: 

"Our primary concern is to reduce school exclusions because evidence shows that children and young people who are permanently excluded suffer in terms of educational outcomes and life chances.

"So wherever possible we believe they should remain within mainstream education, in their local school with the right support and curriculum to meet their needs.

Permanent exclusions have risen significantly, despite our investment in the pupil referral service of over £4.7m each year. The present system is not working and so we have agreed that schools, the county council and the pupil referral service work together to agree a new model of provision which is more flexible to meet the needs of children and young people locally."

However after a public consultation, the council has decided to delay its plans. 

Implementation of the new model has been put back to September 2020 rather than the original timescale of 2019. The council maintains the new model will put them in line with national average.

Cllr Patrick Mulligan added: 

"Councillors have also given serious consideration to the concerns of families, the pupil referral service and the wider public, by accepting an extension to the timescale of changes.

"We believe this would reduce the impact of budget changes on the pupil referral service and create greater organisational stability until the new model is finalised.

"The pupil referral service in North Yorkshire is generously funded overall and we need to bring the funding per place for permanently excluded young people into line with national rates.

"The high quality of our pupil referral service in North Yorkshire is not in question – this proposal is about putting children first by tackling the significant rise in exclusions. We have a duty to spend our limited budget in the best way possible."

save the prs petition
Part of the 'Save the PRS' petition which was handed to councillors today

Campaigners however say the delay won't make much difference and still leaves them with an uncertain future. 

They say the fight isn't over

Alex Boyce added:

"Our campaign is now turning it's attention to the full council vote on the budget in February. This vote will decide the matter and set the proposal in stone.

"If the vote goes against us then the first cut to the PRS will be in April and it will be deep.

"We will be hosting a meeting in Harrogate for all councillors on Jan 23rd. We would encourage members of the public to write to their local councillor to ensure they attend so they can make an informed vote next month. All Labour and Libdem councillors are supporting our motion for at least a year's stay of execution but we desperately need more Conservative councillors and Independents to engage with us.

"Each councillor has a vote and each vote is vital."

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